Staff at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) are to be balloted for strike action, Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, said today (Tuesday 28 January).

Unite said the ballot for strike action will open on Tuesday (4 February), following an overwhelming vote in a consultative ballot to reject the management’s arbitrary imposition of new ‘performance pay’ contracts. The ballot closes on Thursday 20 February.

Unite represents more than 700 staff – about half the workforce at the UK’s leading animal charity, founded in 1824.

Unite said the crux of the dispute is management’s proposals to replace the recently negotiated incremental pay scheme with a performance pay arrangement which could exacerbate plummeting staff morale in an organisation where bullying has been endemic.

Unite has criticised ‘the bully boy’ tactics that the bosses have used to coerce some employees to sign the new contracts way before the 31 March deadline – or face the sack.  

In a letter to the RSPCA’s HR director Patricia Williamson, Unite regional coordinating officer Debbie Watson said that there have been no ‘meaningful’ talks about the decision to dismiss employees who don’t sign.

Debbie Watson wrote: “It is therefore our view that by coming to the stated conclusion that employees will be dismissed if they don’t agree to the new terms before discussions in the meetings have taken place that the Society has failed to adequately consult with them.
“I also note that you refer to a number of employees having already signed up to the new contracts. Feedback from those that have signed indicates that the majority have not done this willingly and that many have done this as they simply did not want to lose their jobs. 

“Our reps advise me that in some of the one to ones, some of our members have been in tears and extremely intimidated by the messages sent by the management team.”
Today (Tuesday 28 January), Debbie Watson called on the management to jettison their ‘bully boy’ tactics and enter into constructive talks with Unite, despite the RSPCA rejecting the services of the conciliation service Acas.

Debbie Watson added: “Members don’t have to sign these contracts until 31 March this year and they should not be bullied into signing them. Accompanying the contracts was an aggressive email threatening staff to sign before 20 December last year or face potential dismissal.

“Following the overwhelming mandate we received in the consultative paper, we are now holding a full scale strike action ballot.

“Morale has never been so low, and confidence and trust in chief executive Chris Sherwood and the executive team are at rock bottom. Many members blame the employment of temporary external contractors at a senior level for the proposals and also the CEO for a failure in leadership, with many questioning his judgement.”

Unite has said, under the proposals, staff allowances, especially standby payments, will be reduced by 50 per cent. For example, an inspector will see an annual average reduction in their salary of at least £2,000 and potentially as high as £4,000. Other front line, animal and wildlife centre staff face similar deductions.

In an open letter to Chris Sherwood, Unite has said that recent talks over pay and new contracts were ‘deliberately restrictive, disingenuous and designed to fail’.


Notes to editors:

Unite said the RSPCA’s own staff engagement survey this summer revealed that 31 per cent of the 1,700-strong workforce had either been bullied directly or witnessed such behaviour.

The union said that the management at the Horsham HQ was using the relatively modest operational deficit projected for 2019/2020 as an excuse to introduce these salami-slicing measures on employment conditions; especially given that income from donations is running at £140 million a year and is reinforced by healthy reserves.

For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940. Unite press office is on:  020 3371 2065
Email: [email protected]

  • Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.